About Michael Freeman

Michael W. Freeman is a veteran journalist, playwright and author. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, he has lived in Orlando since 2002. Michael has worked for some of Florida's largest newspapers, including The Orlando Sentinel. His original plays have draw strong audiences at the Orlando Fringe Festival. He is the author of the novels "Bloody Rabbit" and "Koby's New Home."

Outgoing Congressman Alan Grayson: “I met my standards.”

WINDERMERE – Looking back on his two years in Washington, Congressman Alan Grayson sees a lot that Democrats should be proud of – starting with the health care reform law that became such a controversial topic in this year’s election season.

“Many members of Congress said that was the most important bill they had ever voted on, and some of them had been in office for 40 years,” Grayson said, adding that he believes millions of Americans, today unsure of how they’ll pay medical bills if their health deteriorates, will soon get the coverage and peace of mind they deserve.

“That will change now,” he said. “Those people will be alive.”

Grayson, a Democrat representing Florida’s 8th Congressional District, also predicted the law would face a fierce battle in the next two years, as the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives takes solid aim at dismantling it.

“I think the president will veto any effort on their part to do that, although I think they will under fund it,” he predicted.

Grayson won’t be in Congress to take part in that battle. In an election year that saw voters turn sharply away from Democrats and give Republicans 63 new seats in Congress, his party did particularly poorly in the South. In Florida, which voted for Barrack Obama for president in 2008, the pendulum swung heavily to the other side, and Republicans picked up four congressional districts — including the 8th District. Grayson lost his re-election bid to former Republican state Sen. Dan Webster, 56 percent to 38 percent.

In an exclusive interview with FreelineMedia in the days following his defeat, Grayson said he’s still proud of the campaign he ran, particularly his successful efforts to raise campaign contributions online while bypassing large contributors with agendas to pursue – grassroots campaigning versus the older model of letting the most influential special interests guide the way, he said.

“We completely shattered the traditional model of how you finance a campaign, which is you suck up to lobbyists and rich people who want to know what you can do for them,” he said.

Grayson blames his party’s heavy losses on their failure to energize and motivate their base – the progressives who helped elect them in 2008, when voters in the 8th Congressional District not only ousted a veteran Republican congressman, Ric Keller, in favor of Grayson, but also voted for Obama.

“Democratic participation fell off the cliff this year, not only in my district but across the country – everywhere except New England and the West Coast,” Grayson said. “In dozens upon dozens of districts around the country, Democrats lost because Democrats didn’t vote. There was a voter strike for the Democrats. Certainly my own theory is we didn’t deliver enough for Democratic constituency groups.”

He also blames part of the problem on Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who used filibusters to block all but the most routine legislation – a tactic he described as obstructionist.

“The entire White House agenda crashed on the shores of Republican stubbornness in the Senate,” Grayson said.

Still, Grayson disagrees with those who say Americans punished the Democrats for not doing enough to revive the ailing economy, and for pushing a separate agenda – health care – that Americans were not united around.

In September 2009, Grayson himself created a firestorm during the health care debate when he took to the House floor and warned Americans that the Republicans’ alternate health care plan was they “want you to die quickly,” while posting a sign that read “The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly.”

Republicans in the House and conservative commentators roared with indignation, but Grayson said his speech may actually have helped lead to passage of the bill.

“Nationally, I think my speech on health care turned out to be a turning point in the health care debate,” he said. “That gave our side the courage of our convictions where we were actually able to give health care to all Americans. The speech was something that really had an impact.”

Grayson also defends his record, saying he worked hard for the voters in his district, which covers Orlando and parts of Orange, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties.

“Locally, we got $200 million to keep schools open,” he said. “We pushed a mandatory home mediation program to keep people in their homes. We doubled the amount of federal grant money coming into the district from $100 million to $200 million in my first year. We gave personal responses to over 100,000 emails in the district and we maintained four district offices. I think that we gave people an idea locally of what it would mean to have a congressman working hard and getting things done.”

Grayson said he worked hard for his constituents.

He defended the federal stimulus bill, saying it helped avoid a complete economic crash.

“The wheels were coming off the economy,” he said. “We did what we had to do. I am happy that we avoided a second Great Depression.”

Looking ahead, Grayson said he’s not sure what his plans are, but he does know this: he will stay active in politics, if for no other reason than the passion he feels for the progressive causes he championed in Washington.

“I haven’t changed,” he said. “I’m really proud of the things we were able to accomplish. I met my standards.”

In the meantime, Grayson said he will put his focus on his family.

“I’m the only member of Congress with five children in school,” he said. “This gives me an opportunity to be a better husband and father. I liked life before, I liked life during, and I’ll like life after Congress. I like life.”

Is there such a thing as an unhealthy workout? One Healthy Champ says yes.

ORLANDO – For a lot of folks these days, it’s a devoted daily ritual: heading to the gym to spend hours building up a sweat and burning off calories. There’s even a term for them: gym rats, or people who spent much of their leisure time working out in a gymnasium or health spa, devoting their energies to muscle building, strength training, cardiovascular exercising and aerobic activities.

But if it sounds like the ultimate in healthy living, there are skeptics like Luis Rodriguez Jr. who cautions that, as with most things in life, too much of any good thing can potentially backfire on you.

“You can work out too much,” Rodriguez cautions.

Rodriguez, a physical fitness coach and trainer, isn’t skeptical about physical fitness or a healthy workout at the gym. His Web site, www.HealthyChamps.com, promotes exercise and nutrition and helps people find ways to become healthier, stronger and in the best shape they’ve ever been.

Still, Rodriguez has spent enough time training people – including so-called gym rats – to know that their energy level or degree of enthusiasm doesn’t always amount to an effective workout. All too often, Rodriguez said, he’s seen examples of people who think a good workout begins and ends with the amount of time they spend on a treadmill or execise bike, or maybe lifting weights, and don’t think about their body’s critical nutritional needs.

“Your level of activity and level of nutrition need to be matched up,” he said. Not everyone does that.

As Rodriguez noted, lengthy workouts mean people are burning off calories, allright – “between 800 and 2,000 calories if you’re talking about a three hour workout,” he said. “The average person already burns 1,200 calories as they’re sleeping, at a minimum.”

That may sound great to anyone who counts the calories on their food boxes, but what they often forget, Rodriguez noted, is that their body actually needs a certain amount of calories and fat to stay healthy and fit. That means giving your body all the nutritional needs it requires to keep up with the active pace of a gym rat workout schedule.

Otherwise, “Your body is not getting the calories it needs,” he said. “Eighty percent of fat loss and muscle building is nutrition. Nutrition is more important for exercise for fat burning goals and muscle building. If you’re not engaging in frequent meal eating and getting carbohydrates, fat or protein, you’re going to kill your metabolism.”

That’s true even for those who switch to a vegeterian diet in the hope of becoming healthier, Rodriguez said, adding that the body still needs some fat to keep working properly.

“If they do go vegan or switch over to becoming a vegetarian, they’re missing out on some of the amino acids their body needs to build tissue,” he said. “My body needs 2,800 to 3,000 calories a day. You can’t get that amount from vetegables alone. I could only get it from beans and soy, but what was happening was my metabolism was slowing down.” That makes it harder for the body to burn off fat.

Surprisingly, a lack of nutrition can also leave a gym rat feeling sick – the very opposite of what they probably expect a vigorous daily workout to produce.

“If you’re not getting enough nutrition, it could lead to dehydration, and leave you low in vitamins and minerals in your body,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of illnesses can come from a lack of vitamins and antioxydents in the body.”

At the same time, gym rats often assume that if they spend hours in their favorite gymnasium, they’re giving their body exactly what it needs, regardless of what they eat. But Rodriguez cautioned that “The duration is not as important as the intensity.”

There are three levels of intensity that people can engage in during their workout: high, moderate or low. More often than not, Rodriguez said, gym rats go for moderate intensity so they can stretch their workouts over several hours and not burn out too quickly.

“Some people go in and do moderate intensity all the time,” he said. “What they really want to do is a combination of high, moderate and low intensity during the week. Just doing moderate intensity doesn’t push you forward. Low and moderate intensity with good nutrition will get you good health goals, but they will not build the muscle tissue you need.

“Let’s say we start the week and we’re working your biceps, and we do a very heavy routine,” he said. “By Wednesday, maybe you want to do something with a medicine ball, that’s keeping your heart rate up. The next day, you do low intensity – yoga or any type of core exercises. Each muscle group needs to be treated by itself.”

Rodriguez said before gym rats get their membership and start scheduling themselves for two hours or more a day, they should sit down with a professional trainer to figure out what type of exercise routine works best for their body – and what kind of nutritional plan their system requires.

“Each person’s body is a little different,” he said. “The first thing you need to do is talk to one of the trainers at your gym, to design a specific program for you.”

To learn more, call 407-271-1119 or log on to HealthyChamps.com.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

Freelining with Mike Freeman: Quiet ways to celebrate the season

ORLANDO – Maybe it’s nothing more than the inevitable process of getting older, but I find that I increasingly appreciate the smaller, quieter things in life.

Or maybe it has to do with living here in Central Florida, where every day in December we get television ads trumpeting all the ducky things we have to do to get into the holiday spirit.

Having just taken in a sneak peek of what Sea World is doing this year, I can tell you that yes, there’s a lot of fun holiday stuff to absorb at our theme parks.

Sea World's Ports of Call gets into the holiday spirit with this seasonal decoration.

But for me, I recently pondered the sublime pleasure of something else entirely: Light Up UCF and Rudolph. But first I had to figure out why.

Light Up UCF is the University of Central Florida’s gift to the holidays, and it won’t remind you of what the theme parks have to offer. It’s a modest event, with a flashy and colorful light show in the UCF Knight’s Plaza, an ice skating rink, a 100-foot ice slide, a merry go round, ferris wheel and Santa choo-choo train. The big neon flash of “Season’s Greetings” lights welcome you upon your arrival, although the music blasting from the skating rink ranges from Christmas favorites to country and even rock and rap.

I got there on Thanksgiving night with my sister, and noticed one thing right off: we didn’t spend a whole heck of a lot of time fighting the crowds. In fact, we almost were the crowd. There were no intimidating-looking lines at the rides, although the skating rink had attracted a decent number of folks and the kids were taking on that ice slide with gusto. My sister and I rode Santa’s train, feeling for all intents and purposes like we had left our childhood behind just a day or two ago, rather than the many long decades that have passed since we’d routinely beam with excitement at an event like this. 

The lights shine brightly at the University of Central Florida's Light Up UCF

Summed up that way, Light Up UCF must sound quite drab, a letdown for those who brave the lines at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios for the big stuff. But for me, it wasn’t dull at all. Granted, I didn’t spend hours at what essentially took me less than a half hour to enjoy. But enjoy it, I did. And as I said to begin with, I think I found myself appreciating the quiet solitude of Light Up UCF – no long lines to crawl through, no waiting an hour to hop on a ride, no pushing and shoving through mobs of tourists and locals. We strolled across the university campus like it was our own backyard.

The same was true last night when I sat down on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and watched the annual showing of “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer,” the 1964 animated show with Burl Ives narrating the story of Rudolph, Hermey, Yukon Cornelius, and the rest of the gang as they save the day when it looks like Christmas might get cancelled due to a blinding snowstorm.

Seen today, the animation in “Rudolph” seems primitive. Computer-generated animation is so sophisticated by comparison that it seems limited only by the imaginations of the designers and artists. I hadn’t watched “Rudolph” in years and have no clue what convinced me to check it out again this year. But even if it makes the likes of “Shrek” seem monumentally artistic and creative by comparison, I found myself hopelessly caught up in a Rudolph nostalgia binge. There I was, quietly anticipating certain moments that proved to be alternately scary (how many times as a kid did I hide my face in my parents’ couch as the Abominable Snowman chased poor Rudolph and Hermey?), sad (remember those misfit toys that nobody wanted?) or perfectly capable of tugging effortlessly at the heartstrings (Clarice doesn’t care if Rudolph’s nose glows or not – awwww!). Maybe I loved the movie as a kid because I empathized with Rudolph and Hermey, and felt like I, too, was something of a misfit – but then again, didn’t we all feel that way as kids when we thought we didn’t fit in with the crowd?

In any case, I stayed with “Rudolph” to the very end, before “NCIS” came on and the holiday entertainment ended. It took me back, just briefly, to a happy time many holiday seasons ago … and so did Light Up UCF. 

Santa's Train is running at Light Up UCF

But as I said, maybe I just wanted the quiet, simple nostalgic buzz I got from that 1964 movie and that quaint little college festival. Not everything we do at this time of year has to be big and splashy and designed for massive crowds. Sometimes it’s the little things that really put you in the mood to celebrate the season.

Light Up UCF continues through Jan. 2, and tickets for the rides are $12. To learn more, call 407-823-6006.

Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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